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Update: Support Services Q&A Session

For the second session in our Q&A series in collaboration with the University of Plymouth, we asked for your questions around support services available to you as students.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to submit questions, vote and share the page.

Your VP Wellbeing & Diversity, Fawziyyah Ahmed, hosted the Q&A session with two key members of University staff to hear answers to your questions and we're happy to share a recording of that session with you.

Attending the session were:

 


 

Scroll down for a full transcript of the video below

 

Useful links:
 

 


 

Transcript:

 

Fawziyyah Ahmed 

Hello, everyone. My name is Fawziyyah, my pronouns are she and her, and I am your Vice President Wellbeing and Diversity at the Students' Union. So, I am joined here by Alice Ludgate and Anne Bentley, I will just be having a discussion about the support services that are available for all University of Plymouth students. So, this discussion will be based on questions that you all have submitted and voted on a few days ago on the Students' Union website. A big thank you to all the students who sent in questions and voted.

I'll just pass on to Alice and Anne so they can introduce themselves.

 

Alice Ludgate 

Thanks very much. So yeah, hi, everyone. My name is Alice Ludgate, I'm Head of Student Services, and I'll hand over to Anne.

 

Anne Bentley 

Hi, I'm Anne Bentley and I manage the Wellbeing Services, Mental Health, Counselling and Pastoral and Spiritual Support.

 

Fawziyyah Ahmed 

So, shall we get started? The first question I have here is how do students access mental health support within the University, and what types of support are available?

 

Alice Ludgate 

I might just say something first, then I'll hand over to Anne because this is her patch - but just to say that, we have support services, and Anne can explain what they are. But just to reassure you Fawziyyah and all the students that are listening, that it's really important to us that we know this year, has presented many challenges and in terms of your mental health. So, we want you to know, there's loads of support out there for you and to access it. So yeah, I'll let Anne explain, what that is and how you can do it.

 

Anne Bentley 

Yeah, thank you, Alice. So yeah, this year has been unprecedented. You've heard that sentence a million times. But we know that in terms of mental health, it's been a challenge. Our students are telling us, it's been difficult. We know that there have been lots of challenges around practical challenges, financial challenges, academic challenges, emotional challenges, isolation, all of these have come together. And some people are telling us that it made them feel quite vulnerable, quite upset, and quite distressed. Now, I'm really proud to say that we support a range of students. But I'm always worried about those who don't come to us, those who don't come forward. And I think from my own experience, and from experience of people who I work with, and the students I've spoken to, what I know is the most difficult step is that first step, and the one thing that we really want to encourage for all students is, take that first step, let us help you to feel better, we have a range of services, we are open, we can see you virtually, we can see you by phone by zoom, and if needs be - and if it feels better - we can also make other arrangements, including face to face. So please, before I start to talk in any detail about what we offer, all I want to say is, please take the first step, please don't suffer in silence. Because that's the thing that worries us most. If you suffer in silence. My worry is that things get worse, not better. So come and talk to us.

But what do we have? I mean, what would you get if you came and talk to us? Well, you could either talk to a Counsellor, and you could see somebody and discuss some problems that you're having, or some thoughts or worries, concerns. Some people come to counselling to talk about things that have worried them from the past. Some people come to counselling, and they don't want to look at the past, they don't want to look at why their problems are. They just want some solutions and some strategies, they want to think differently about themselves. And that's fine, we can help a wide range. If you're in crisis, if you're struggling, if you're feeling maybe that perhaps you don't want to live anymore, we have our mental health team who will respond to you very, very quickly, and what they will respond and help you to think about how you keep yourself safe, and how we can help you in the future. So we don't just want to patch you up and send you off, we want to patch you up and help you to feel a lot better and to help you have the long term support you need. And the one last thing I'll say is, maybe you don't know if you want counselling, maybe you don't know if you want mental health support, that's fine, still call us. We have the listening post available from 10am - 4pm every day. And these are trained expert listeners who won't mind what you want to talk about. So if you end up talking about the weather or your shopping list, they'll be just as happy as if you wanted to talk about things that were upsetting you. So what I want to say is there's always something there for you and please just come and help.

 

Fawziyyah Ahmed 

Thank you so much, Anne, I think it's really refreshing and I think it's nice for students to hear that we are there for them. We're there to support them whenever they need. And as you said, the most important step is basically, to come forward and to have the courage to actually want to speak to someone. So I think that's really good. Thank you, Anne. So I'm moving on with regards to the support services in general, how long will I need to wait to talk to someone? And what information will they need to share?

 

Anne Bentley 

Good question. So, as I said, the Listening Post is available every day, Monday to Friday, I must say, actually, and you don't actually have to wait at all for that you can see them as many times as you like, you don't need to have an appointment, the most you would be waiting would be 20 minutes. So that's available for you anytime. Counselling, generally, if you book in for counselling, it could take up to two weeks, but we know that at the moment, it's much quicker. So no more than two weeks. And in terms of our mental health service, we try to respond to you within two or three days, maximum of five days, but we really will try and respond quickly. But there are a couple of other things I haven't thought of until now. And I want to mention them because they're quite important. So you might not want to talk to somebody, I wish, I think you should. And I'd like you to come forward if you're struggling, but say you don't want to, well, we do have a really good range of self-help stuff. So we've got Shine, shine.ac.uk. And we have also got our TogetherAll, our self-help platform where you can actually link up with others, and get peer support. And then TogetherAll is monitored by qualified professionals. So if you are worried about anything that should be picked up, but actually if you don't want to talk to a University person, you know, go on to TogetherAll and have a chat with some other people who are around.

 

Fawziyyah Ahmed 

Yeah, Anne, that's really useful to know that there are a wide range of services available, including self-help if a student doesn't want to talk to University staff. So moving on. So most of teaching and activities is now online. So I just want to ask, how do the University plan to tackle cyberbullying and misconduct?

 

Alice Ludgate 

Yeah, I'm happy to talk first on that. Because you're right, you know, we're all using, making more use of technology than we ever have before and the fact we can do things like this is obviously great. So it presents loads of opportunities, but we also know that it can present challenges, the more time we spend online, and the more use of technology we're making. And so, all of our students' safety is absolutely paramount in our minds and it always has been and always will be. But that also includes online safety. So that could be you know, bullying, harassment, in fact, any form of harm that could occur online. So firstly, please know that it certainly won't be tolerated by the University. And we, we just want you to tell us if something is happening, or that you've seen something that concerns you, we've got, you know, we've got policies, we've got a student code of conduct and a disciplinary procedure, which sort of says, the standards of behaviour that we would expect from our students, but also that you should be able to expect from each other as well. And so you don't necessarily need to seek it out, but know that it exists. And there's webpages and guidance that talk to you about that. And, and through, the University and the Students' Union, actually, there's been, there are periodically different campaigns that run to sort of promote positive behaviour and raise awareness of some of the inappropriate behaviour that can occur in society. And in fact, this week first of February is National Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment Awareness Week so it's quite timely that this question is asked because of course, that's something that can occur in an online setting as well. So I said, we really want students to tell us if something's happened, or that you are aware of something. And the best way of doing that, I mean, you can speak to a member of staff, obviously, but we've launched last year an online reporting tool called Speak Up. And you can use that to tell us about any inappropriate behaviour online in any setting. And you can make a report either anonymously or with your name. And if you choose to give us your name, it just means that we'll contact you to discuss what happens next. We won't do anything without talking to you about it and before we start any investigation, we'll get your agreement to do that. And so, there's Speak Up and that, that obviously, links to the Student Code of Conduct and disciplinary procedure, so you know, just know that that's there know that we're thinking about it. Staff are aware of those procedures, and they'll be able to guide you and advise you through them and, you know, we want technology to be a safe and happy and successful medium that we're all using.

 

Fawziyyah Ahmed 

Thank you, Alice, I think it's really important that students know that the University feel strongly against cyberbullying. And if strong misconduct, just on the back of that the Speak Up tool you mentioned, where would students find it? Is it on the University website or on the Digital Learning Environment?

 

Alice Ludgate 

Yeah, it's available on the main University website, if you look for Speak Up, you'll be taken to it. And that's really important because students can make reports anonymously, so you don't need to log in to use it, it's entirely up to you how you choose to use it, and therefore if you give us your name, or not.

 

Fawziyyah Ahmed 

Thank you. So this question is for students with disabilities. So, what support is available for students with disabilities following the inequitable removal of extra time and how can disabled students get the support they need?

 

Alice Ludgate 

I'm happy to take that one. And so yeah, good, good question I'm glad that's been asked. So, in general, we will have many students each year that will declare a disability. And that could be something that they arrive at University with already knowing about, or it could be something that happens during their time at University, but we've got loads of support in place for those students. And you know, we want to make adjustments and we know that by doing so we're enabling disabled students to have a really successful academic and social University experience, so know that that's really important to us. I would say, if anyone is listening to this, and you haven't told us about a disability, then please do - contact the Student Hub. And because even if you think you don't need any support, or you might not be entitled to it, our team, the Student Hub and the Disability Team can talk you through whether you are and they can help you with that. Because sometimes, and not always, but particularly in cases around mental health students don't always realise that that could be defined by disability legislation, and you could be entitled to additional support and possibly even funding. So do contact us.

But to answer the question, Fawziyyah, sorry, which was about the time for the assessments that was put into place. So I think this question is about the 48 hour assessments from what I've read, and what you've said. And so it's my understanding that we've made a decision last summer to remove the majority of exams, or and move them to online open book 48 hour assessments. So the duration is really important and that relative to the time that would ordinarily be permitted under normal conditions, is intended as an inclusive measure for students with disabilities, and to account for any difficulties taking an assessment at home. So that's the rationale. That's the reason why it's been put into place. And if any students think that actually for them that that doesn't work, then please contact us, contact Student Services, or indeed contact your program team, and we can talk to you about your needs, and what you think might be more accessible for you. So yeah, the disability team can help you they can speak to you and then help you in a conversation with your Faculty if indeed, that's something you want to do. So if we're still available, we're still open throughout the lockdown so come and talk to us.

 

Fawziyyah Ahmed 

Thank you, Alice, I think it's important that students do know that we are trying to support them, or we will support them to the best of our abilities. So this question is about financial support, so because of COVID, a lot of students and people have experienced some kind of financial loss since the beginning of the pandemic. So, students would like to know what financial support is available and are there any restrictions apply?

 

Anne Bentley 

So we know that everybody in some way has been, every student in some way, been affected financially by the COVID pandemic, we know that some of you have not been able to live in your accommodation and have been paying two rents so you've been paying rent places that you're not living in. We know that some of you have had to buy new technology. Some of you have not had access to the Library. So you may have had incurred extra expenses, buying books, you may have had to buy equipment that normally you may have had loans for and some of you may have had to buy extra or have all sorts of other extra expenses that I haven't thought of yet. So the Government has recognized this and they given our University a sum of money, and we have created a COVID Hardship Grant. And this Grant is available to all students; part-time, mature, full-time, undergrad, post-grad, international - the full range of our student population can apply for the COVID Hardship Grant. And what we would suggest is that if you think about how you've been affected, and really think through about and consider applying for a Grant, we are very keen to spend the money, we're very keen to help you. And we're very keen to ensure that we can do our very best, it might not be everything, but we would like to do our best to support you. And the message that we keep on saying throughout this, and we will probably say it again, another 10 times is, come forward if you look at the grant. And if you think well, I don't know, if I could, I don't know if I'll get it, ring up Students Services and have a chat, find out what you need to do. If you look at the Grant and think actually, I don't, I don't know how to fill the form in, contact us, we'll help you, you know, we are here to try to guide you. It might, you might think actually, I'm sure I don't qualify, but I am struggling, contact us, we are trying to get as much help out as we can.

So please do think through and please, again, it's taking that step, it's picking up the phone, or it's dropping an email saying please help us or can I have a bit of advice? Because I'm struggling financially, but I'm not sure if I'm eligible, can somebody give me a Zoom call? Can somebody contact me and just talk me through it, we'll help you, we don't want people to be struggling. And we do want to be supporting you. But you might say actually, my financial pressures are long term, and they're quite deep, and they're not going to, you know, the Grant isn't going to quite cut it. And we know that there are some situations that are incredibly complex. So we've also got a Financial Support Fund with all kinds of opportunities, and bursaries and various different ways in which we can offer our students financial support. So again, the message again, just let us know, let us know. And let us think about what we can do. Our Student Services front desk - we call them the Hub - they have a great range of information, and they just really want to try to get the best help for students as soon as possible. So don't think oh I don't qualify, don't think, oh, it's not for me, it's more likely other people. If you're struggling financially, get in touch with us, and we will try to get that help to you.

 

Alice Ludgate 

Yeah, and what I would say as well as with the COVID Hardship Grant, it's something you can apply for more than once. So if you apply for it, and you receive some awards, great, and then something else happens and some other costs that you weren't expecting come in, you can apply again, that's absolutely fine. So yeah, as Anne said, just fill in the form and get in touch with us if you want some help.

 

Fawziyyah Ahmed 

Thank you both. I would echo Anne's message of taking the first step, which is picking up your phone or checking it just arranging a Zoom call, just take the first step, I would echo that message. Just off the back of that - this is specific to international students who may not be in Plymouth, would they also be able to access the COVID Hardship Fund even if they're not in the UK?

 

Alice Ludgate 

Potentially, yes, they're certainly eligible to apply. We need to make sure we can only pay the money into a UK bank account. So as long as those students have a UK bank account, then absolutely yeah, please do.

 

Fawziyyah Ahmed 

Thank you. So this next question is regarding COVID, the dreaded word. So what support is available for students that have tested positive or have been told to self-isolate?

 

Alice Ludgate 

Okay, I mean, I can talk a bit about some of the support and then Anne you may want to talk about the sort of wellbeing and mental health side of that as well if you like. But yeah, we've got support for students. But the question is about students in Plymouth, but actually our support for students who have tested positive and/or might be self-isolating for any reason, it extends Plymouth, there's boundaryless so wherever you are, there's support for you. So last year, we set up a team called the COVID Advice Team or the CAT team for short. And that's purpose is really to support students exactly as the question asked who are isolating, and that could be because they tested positive or it could be because they're living with someone who has. So what we do, we've got staff in the CAT team who will telephone students who are isolating and check in with them. And if at that point, they've got questions, we'll help them find the answers. If they're struggling, we'll point them in the direction of support and if they're absolutely fine, then that's great, but we'll still contact them again, prior to the end of that isolation period, just to make sure that that's still the case. Obviously, some people will test positive but might not have symptoms, and others might be feeling poorly but in any case, we'll help you through however you're feeling.

I would say that the other challenge I know students have faced is around access to food or essential supplies, while you're isolating, if you are in Plymouth and your social network isn't then you might be struggling. So when the CAT team contact you, let us know. And whatever that is, we'll help you resolve it. So, just do speak to us. And of course, this all relies on us knowing of yourself by stating our tested positive. So we've got the Plym Uni app, there's a tile on the app called COVID-19 Reporting, and in, there's a really short form for you to tell us the outcome of a test result, or that you're isolating for another reason and as soon as we get that, we will then make contact with you to check exactly how you are. So whatever that reason, is, just use the form and tell us what's happening. And then that's when your support can really kick off. Anne I don't know if you want to add anything to that.

 

Anne Bentley 

Yeah, you know, really my heart goes out to anybody with a positive test, because as if this year wasn't hard enough, then you get a positive test. And if you're living alone, or if you've not got support around you, it can be really frightening, and it can be really worrying. I mean, you may not have symptoms, you may have tested positive, but it may, you may also be very uncomfortable, it may feel really difficult. And you know, our support is not just the CAT team, you can approach any of our other support networks here, the Listening Post, counselling, mental health, Student Services, you know, we recognize that this year has been so difficult. And also we've recognised that some of the COVID symptoms can be really, really depleting, you can feel absolutely exhausted, wiped out, just let us help you, let us support you. And also, please also use your Personal Tutors. And I'm not saying use them in a wellbeing way, although some of them and many of all of them, I think will be very keen to support you. But let them know if it's having an academic impact. Let them know that if you're not feeling well, but actually it might affect your studies, the more we communicate about this, the more support we can put in place around you. But all I can say is really it's across everything is self-care is so important now.

You know, some days, I talk about what I think about myself, some days I wake up and I feel quite low because actually being in lockdown is quite tiring, it's quite tough. The things that we used to do to look after ourselves, the social life we used to have, the hobbies we used to do, going out, going out for dinner, I don't know, whatever we did going to the pub, you know, we can't do that now. So we need to be really mindful that this, you know, the things that supported us, we might not be able to do now. And so what I really want to say is, be kind, be kind to yourself, because you're going through, and you know, again, I'm going to use this word and hate myself for it unprecedented times, but you are, we all are. So some days you're going to feel fine. And other days, you might not do and that is normal. But the one thing that I would like also to be normal is if you want to talk to somebody just pick up the phone. Last week, I felt very low. And it was really just because I was grieving, I was grieving all the things I couldn't do anymore. And the thing that got me through it was dumping. I just took my feelings and I just poured them out. I told my manager, I told Alice, I told the management team, I told my family. And after a good lot good session of letting go, I felt better. And it was purely because I was able to reach out and talk. So please do, please reach out to us come and dump on us. It's what we're here for.

 

Fawziyyah Ahmed 

Thank you Anne, that was a very lovely answer. So just this last question, but this one is actually for me to answer is regarding the SU. So will students be refunded memberships of clubs and societies if they haven't been able to use them due to COVID?

 

So I will answer this question. So as a Students' Union, we are operating for the students and we just want to ensure students are getting their value for money from the Students' Union. So currently, we are looking into refunding our students for their sub memberships and supporting student groups in how they can process refunds for their memberships. So hopefully this answers the question.

 

So a very big thank you to Anne and Alice for having this discussion with me. I'll just echo the message that has been said throughout this whole session, which is, if you are in need of any support, whether it's financial, or you just need someone to talk to please reach out to any of the Support Services, they are available. They are there for you, and they want to support you as much as possible. So please reach out. I don't know if you guys have any last minute. Any last thoughts you want to add?

 

Anne Bentley 

No, thanks Fawzi, thanks for this - it's been great.

 

Alice Ludgate 

Yeah, that was mine as well. It's really good. And it's, you know, we work really closely anyway. And it's nice to have this chance to talk about the issues that are most important to students. So yeah. Thank you.